Last month at the World Championships in London, after my own competition was over, I was standing on the outer deck of the stadium overlooking the warmup track. Just a few days prior I had been down on that warmup track, getting ready to race in my 3rd World Championships. Standing there I overheard the man beside me speaking to a young girl as they looked on. He was telling her how to become one of those athletes below: “You have to work hard, and be focused. Write down your goals and put them beside your bed. Look at them every morning and evening to keep on the right track and don’t stop until you achieve them. If you put your mind to it you will get there.”
I wanted to interject. One of my bad habits is chiming in to offer my advice unsolicited, but I managed to stay silent and walk away. In that young girl I saw myself and this is what I wish someone had taught me instead.
Dear Young Nicole,
Right now you are dreaming of one day going to the Olympics and winning the gold. You don’t yet know that you’ll actually go to the Olympics - twice (and counting!) - but you will not win the gold. In fact, over time you will realize the that the gold may be a tad out of your reach. You will reset your focus on reaching the Olympic Final and along the way becoming the first Canadian woman to break 4:00. You will be taught by your peers and role-models that you will achieve your goals if you pursue them relentlessly and never give up. The media and society will surround you with stories of patience, persistence, and determination culminating in the ultimate achievement. Of course you are promised that there will be obstacles along the way, but also promised that what you believe, you will achieve. If you remain focused and committed to your dreams you will reach them.
Every time you watch a champion’s interview, this message is etched deeper in your heart. Every winner has overcome obstacles to achieve their dream. Each one tells of the hardship along their path to success, and that their effort had finally paid off. They say “It’s all worth it.” “If I can do it you can do it.” “Never give up.”
Hard work, patience, persistence and focus are required of you. You will not achieve your goals without them, but you need to understand that with these disciplines, you might achieve them. What you believe you may achieve. Some will, and some won’t. You have been taught that a failure just means your story isn’t over yet. No one said that falling short is actually a possible ending. Only the champions are given interviews.
You have no idea of the ups and downs along the way for you. You don’t know the pain you will cause yourself by feeling entitled to success because of how much work you have put in or the restlessness you’ll carry while longing for the achievements of your peers. You will spend months and years diligently pursuing your goals instead of pursuing your first love, Jesus.
Instead, consider this: is it all worth it if you do not achieve your biggest dreams? Is there value in putting out effort every day in hopes of reaching a place you may never attain? Do you appreciate the opportunity to work hard for the sake of hard work, rather than solely for the achievement you believe you are guaranteeing for yourself? Are you grateful for your life, and what you have TODAY, without any promises for tomorrow? Can you seek godliness ahead of accomplishment?
You would never guess, but your 31st year, a year that right now you expect you'll be retired, will be the most joy-filled year of your entire career. In that year you will have another set of obstacles and moments of weakness, but you will not take a single race for granted. You will be happier because you can be happy for the success of others. You’ll be a better friend and teammate because you can celebrate their achievements without wishing they were your own. You will not become a finalist, but you will appreciate and enjoy round 1 and the semi final more than you did at any other Championships. You will have goals that you don’t accomplish, but you will be satisfied with your performances not only from this year, but from your whole career. You could walk away and yet, you will have loved it so much you will want to run forever.
All my love,
The Older You